On Appreciating the Little Things, Especially Around the Holidays

For those of us who live paycheck-to-paycheck, for whom the accumulation of savings is always one perfect-month-without-crises away, it is important to take pleasure in the little things. For me, one of those little things is the stretch of the month between the 15th and the 25th, when all my big bills are paid — student loan, 2011 independent contractor taxes on the installment plan — but the next round of them — rent, phone, after-school for two kids — is still the better part of a week away.

Often, a paycheck, or, more precisely, a pay advice from a direct deposit, arrives during this period, giving me the false sense that I am getting ahead and accumulating the absurd amount of emergency cash that financial planners smugly say I should have. By now I have learned not to rely on my foolish notions, so I resist big purchases (well, maybe a few extra drinks). Instead, I just luxuriate for a few days in a false sense of financial security. This month, it’s false financial security and a glass of egg nog with rum in it. Happy holidays.

In Defense of Small Cheap Cities

Living in Hartford, I still see art and music, and I get to live in a city, and my rent is about one third of what I would pay for an equivalent apartment in Brooklyn.

Communal Living & Class Antagonism in a Poor City

In Hartford, when poor people claw their way into the middle class, the first thing they do is leave.

Real Life Firing Histories

By rights, I should have been fired for how I dealt with some of these customers, but the owners seemed to feel that having surly diners get a periodic dressing-down from an even surlier waiter who could turn on the Brooklyn when he was pissed was a good thing.

Honey, Sweetie, Chief, Boss: How We Talk to Strangers

You might call a man you don’t know “chief,” but when that man is a judge and you are the defendant, you should probably go with “Your Honor.”

Unnecessary, Compulsive Frugality

I am not uniformly miserly. I allow myself the pleasure of good beer, periodic meals out at places where the entrees cost more than ten dollars, and, now and again, a vacation. But waste still feels deeply difficult.

Experts Maybe Not So Expert-y After All

We talk a lot around here about the people who hold themselves out as financial experts, and how they’re mostly full of bologna. And while we’re on the topic: Donald Trump! Why does anyone think of that dope as a paragon of financial acumen? The dude was born rich and still managed to go bankrupt.

We also dispense a fair bit of advice, or, at least, ponderous suggestions and strongly held opinions, even though none of us is, in any way, a certified expert in matters fiscal. Luckily, that doesn’t matter, because, as a new study reveals, professional mutual fund managers, who presumably would know a thing or two about managing their own money, are just as profligate, impetuous, and generally pound-foolish as the rest of us.

One of the researchers involved suggests that the main takeaway is “average investors might be better off managing their own stock portfolios rather than paying a high-fee mutual-fund managers, because beating the market is rare and very difficult.” That is surely true, but doesn’t go far enough. Average people, who mostly don’t invest in anything beyond groceries, rent, and used cars, should take great solace in knowing that even to the experts, money is basically inscrutable and advantageous decisions are elusive. So go ahead and lace up your fancy sneakers, put your iPhone in your pocket, and go buy a latte. There is a reason they call economics “the dismal science.” There is also probably a reason they call boxing “the sweet science,” but let’s not worry about that just now.

Photo by the author.

I Don’t Get Las Vegas

Las Vegas Boulevard, commonly known as the Strip, is a singular example of government and private industry working together to extract every last dollar from every last man, woman and child in America. The sidewalks themselves are in on the scheme.

Who’s a Real Artist? Ask the IRS

The New York Times reports felicitous news for working artists with day jobs: they can deduct the expenses associated with creating their art from their taxes, even if those expenses exceed the profits derived from the art. This is good news in the most limited of ways, because it lays bare just how difficult it is to make art profitably, and presents a victory that only a small minority of artists will likely benefit from, but still, the existence of tax benefits for fine artists takes a bit of the sting out of the usual news about tax loopholes.

In a case involving Susan Crile, a tenured studio art professor at Hunter College, the IRS asserted that her art activities were merely ancillary to her teaching, and couldn’t be treated as an independent money-making venture. (“[The IRS] agrees,” the tax court ruling reports, “that petitioner has been a successful, though rarely a profitable, artist.” Thanks, IRS!) The tax court disagreed, affirming that in fact, Crile is a real-life artist, even if only three of her 40 years as an artist were profitable.

But! This does not mean that I can start deducting the costs of cooking rice and beans and buying beer for a twenty-person band rehearsal every week.

Why I Had Kids

Following on Meaghan’s meditation on childrearing and work and the putting-together of grown-up puzzle pieces, commenter Vanderlyn asked the following not-crazy question: “Why do people still yearn to have biological children? Especially when doing so will render one’s life (more) financially tenuous, when there are so many unwanted children already out there, and when the world is already straining under the load of 7 billion of us?”